Foreign service nemesis

Tuesday, 15 March 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SRI LANKA’S Foreign Service attracts political appointees much in the same way magnates draw metal. While the desire to see the world exerts its pull on everyone, the latest move to hire the offspring of pro-government politicians on a permanent basis to the diplomatic service has evoked the ire of many and dismayed those that hope to see the sector give career diplomats their rightful due.

A special Cabinet paper to hire political lackeys- mainly the offspring of pro-government politicians has shown the extent of the corruptive system operating in Sri Lanka.

Candidates who work hard to pass the selection exams and obtain entrance are blatantly disregarded while their counterparts use parental contacts to sneak in through the back door.

The memorandum, which was scheduled to be presented to Cabinet last Wednesday but postponed due to a technicality allegedly contains 11 names including the children of two ministers and a chief minister. Experts point out that not only is this a blatant exploitation of a public official’s privileges and trust but also if implemented this will see Cabinet using powers usurped from the Public Service Commission that were given through the 18th Amendment, to arbitrarily recruit sons and daughters of ministers.

Meanwhile eleven diplomats from outside the Foreign Service were approved by the Cabinet last week at a level below Ambassador to a number of overseas missions but an attempt to enlist 10 others outside normal procedures with affect from 1 April was abandoned.  Until now political appointments abroad were approved by Cabinet on the basis of a person-specific Cabinet paper that indentified the post that the appointee would occupy. These appointments were made on a contract basis, unlike this attempt that gives access to the permanent cadre.

The system has been exploited for so long that there is an almost unending list of people to blame. The Foreign Service has long been subject to suffocating politicisation with chicanery, corruption and unfair dealings being a normal occurrence. With the exception of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamer few others have actively supported the independence of the Foreign Service and withheld their power to make political appointments. The previous foreign minister was famous for his appointments of relatives and one of the key criticisms made against this government was that it took no steps to prevent this from happening. It seems that the current office holder has done little to stem the tide with the trend reaching new proportions under his leadership.

The 18th Amendment was tabled and passed in parliament as an emergency bill because, the politicians assured us, of its powers to empower the commissions, including the Public Service Commission but the opposite is happening now. The Cabinet with its key powers to act in the best interests of the country is completely disregarding its duties and approving legislation that will undermine the effectiveness of the Foreign Service for decades to come. Appointing the right professionals to promote diplomatic ties is crucial for Sri Lanka to polish its rather shady reputation in the international limelight.  

Sri Lanka in its march for development needs to understand that the term means more than shiny roads. It means good governance, transparency, accountability and giving the right person the right job. None of these standards are being met in this ugly situation that has shown just how self-serving politicians are in Sri Lanka — a fact that we all knew but nonetheless never fails to disgust.